Over 25 million people will take a cruise this year, and while these numbers are staggering, so is what the cruise industry is doing to attract and accommodate this growing, and increasingly demanding, clientele. Ships are larger and more spectacular than ever before, and with even the most budget-friendly cruise lines offering tiered service and an impressive list of amenities, what does it mean to take a luxury cruise these days? Of course, the definition of luxury is highly subjective, but for those looking for a truly exceptional experience, let us introduce you to the world of ultra-luxury cruising.
What sets ultra-luxury cruises apart from their mass-market counterparts? First, the size of the boats. Ultra-luxury cruises from lines such as Crystal Cruises, Regent Seven Seas Cruises, Seabourn and Silversea rarely carry more than 500 passengers, with most topping out at around 250. This small manifest ensures a level of personalized service that is hard to achieve on a larger ship. Imagine the ambiance of a private club, where perfectly prepared cocktails are sipped in stately elegance.
If this sounds inherently dignified, that’s because it is. While ultra-lux cruises aren’t for everyone, families with young children and those looking for an endless party might be better served elsewhere, they are an extraordinarily refined way to explore the world. Sailings are usually accompanied by renowned lecturers in the arts and sciences, onboard piano bars host jazz singers and classical musicians, and shore excursions are small group affairs that range from private tours to authentic cultural experiences.
The food and wine is world-class as well, and onboard restaurants often feature menus curated by internationally celebrated partners such as Thomas Keller and Relais & Châteaux. Luxuriously appointed staterooms, spacious well-designed public spaces and serene spas are, of course, standard on all the lines. If an ultra-luxury cruise sounds like something you might enjoy, keep in mind that they can also be a remarkable value considering the level of service and amenities. A seven-day Caribbean cruise can cost as little as $2,000 per person including food and beverages, gratuities and sometimes even flights and shore excursions.
The Caribbean was hit hard by hurricanes this year, but nearly 80% of the islands are still gorgeous destinations open for tourism business. Luckily, the picturesque island of Antigua is one of them.
Read anything about the island, and you’re bound to learn that Antigua has exactly 365 beaches – one for each day of the year. You’ll also read about the island’s endless days of sun and stunningly gorgeous azure water. And while these things are true, they don’t capture the heart of this friendly little island, a former English colony where cricket games are an afternoon tradition and colorful roadside restaurants beckon with cornmeal and okra dumplings and cold bottles of Wadadli, the local lager.
Barely a hundred square miles, Antigua is particularly accessible, and exploring by car is a fun and rewarding experience – just stay alert for the bearded goats who sometimes wander into the road! Here are our personal recommendations for exploring the island:
1. Take the Dip in Half Moon Bay
No trip to Antigua is complete without a visit to Half Moon Bay. This family friendly beach is a national park that attracts visitors and locals alike for its stunning pink sand beach and quality snorkeling. Local vendors often sell food here, such as salt fish sandwiches topped with the local hot sauce, making it the perfect spot for a snack and swim.
2. Explore English Harbour
One of the most popular spots in Antigua, beautifully restored English Harbour has enough attractions to last an entire day. From pristine beaches and panoramic trails to restaurants, art galleries and historical monuments (this where you’ll find Nelson’s Dockyards, the world’s only surviving Georgian dockyard), English Harbour is a must see.
3. Watch a Cricket Game
With a seven-mile stretch of beach lined with hotels, dining and recreational options, the opportunities for family fun are practically endless on this Dutch island. In addition, the desert landscape offers an excellent beach alternative with natural attractions such as Arikok National Park, where cacti grow to unexpected heights and fantastically shaped divi-divi trees make for a fun hike.
4. Hike Mount Obama
Cricket is serious business in Antigua, a passion considered more of a religion than a sport. From schoolyards to beaches, games are never hard to find, but for a truly fantastic experience, head to the impressive Sir Vivian Richards Cricket Stadium, built for the 2007 Crocket World Cup, where you can join the cheering crowds for an afternoon of fun.
5. Dance the Night Away
Rum punch and live music fuel Antigua’s famous dance parties, where tourists and locals alike shake and shimmy to the rhythms of the West Indies. From rustic beach bars like Beach Limerz to the ever-popular Shirley Heights Lookout sited high above English Harbour, there is no better way to experience Antigua’s hospitability than on the dance floor.
6. Sail into the Sunset
Antigua has long been a favorite destination among the international sailing set. Join them by chartering your own classic wooden sailboat for the day or watching the sunset from the deck of a catamaran. Whichever way you chose, this is the quintessential Caribbean experience you’ll never forget.
Airports can test the nerves of even the most well-balanced traveler. There are places, however, where calm and tranquility reign – where a comfortable seat is always available, fresh coffee and snacks await, and a glass of prosecco can be had a moments’ notice. We are talking, of course, about airport lounges. Rack up several hundred thousand air miles on the same airline, and you’re sure to get an invitation to join the club. For these rest of us, there are other options, and given the benefits, they’re worth exploring.
1. Join a Lounge Network
Depending on how often and where you fly, joining a lounge network such as Priority Pass might be your best option. Priority Pass offers access to over 1,000 worldwide lounges for an annual fee of $99 with a per visit fee of $27 (alternatively, an annual fee of $399 gets you unlimited access).
2. Buy a Day Pass
Have you ever been stuck at an airport for hours on end? Next time, a day pass to a lounge might be your saving grace. Prices vary considerably between airlines, but for around $50 you can have a day’s worth of food and drink, free Wi-Fi, and a quiet little corner to call your own.
3. Use Your Credit Card
Several credit cards, including the American Express Platinum card and the United MileagePlus Explorer card, offer free or reduced-cost lounge access. The drawback is that these cards often come with high annual fees, but added benefits such as travel insurance, priority boarding and free checked bags might make the upfront payout worthwhile.
4. Upgrade Your Ticket
Buy an international business or a first-class ticket and more than likely you’ll also receive complimentary lounge access. This can be a particularly nice perk on long haul flights, as most international airport lounges have private shower rooms where you can freshen up after your flight.
“Hope for the best, prepare for the worst” is a mantra to live by when traveling. Natural disasters and civil unrest derail the best of plans, but more often it’s the mundane things that disrupt our travel – a lost wallet, a bottle of prescription medicine left on the bathroom counter, a hotel reservation that can’t be found. Err on the side of caution by leaving vital information with a trustworthy friend, coworker or family member. More than likely you’ll never need it, but if the unexpected should arise, you’ll be thankful you planned ahead.
What information should you leave behind?
• A copy of your passport and visas: If your passport is lost or stolen, a copy can help the local embassy replace your documents faster, saving you time and money.
• Credit card information: Having someone at home who knows how to quickly cancel or replace your credit cards can be invaluable if your wallet should go missing.
• Copies of hotel and car rental reservations, train and plane tickets: Help those who might need to help you, give them the information they need to find you as quickly as possible.
• Copy of prescriptions and contact information for your doctor: Having a prescription fulfilled abroad is not always easy. Should you need an emergency refill, access to this information can save time and confusion.
• Consider registering for the government of Canada travel abroad service so they know where you are in case of an emergency. Local embassies can’t help ensure your safety if they don’t know you’re in the country.